Wireless security awareness lacking in UAE, researchers warn

UAE internet users are leaving their systems vulnerable to hackers by not setting their security configurations properly, researchers are warning.

UAE internet users are leaving their systems vulnerable to hackers by not setting their security configurations properly, researchers are warning.

A recent study by the American University of Sharjah into wireless security in the UAE found that a significant number of the wireless networks in Dubai and Sharjah have not been secured.

Of the 1858 access points identified in Dubai through the research, less than half (49%) were WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) enabled, meaning equipped with a security protocol, the researchers found.

In Sharjah, this number was lower still with only 43% of the total 2032 access points WEP enabled. Dr Fadi Aloul, who led the research, said that across the emirate “almost a thousand points were open so anybody could have parked next to that apartment or office, opened the laptop and connected through that point.”

The problems associated with this go beyond the fact of granting someone else free internet access, Aloul warned: the interference could result in a slowdown of the legitimate user’s internet connection as well as expose the user to the possibility of identity theft.

Aloul said identity theft was the biggest danger; an unauthorised user could send threat or spam e-mails under the cover of another person’s identity over an unsecured network. To avoid using their own home or office connection, an attacker could access another user’s WiFi access point to connect to the internet and send out spam or threat e-mails; if traced back, the mails would be traced to the legitimate rather than illegitimate user, Aloul explained.

Researchers of the report said the findings showed an astonishing lack of awareness on wireless security.

“The high number of completely unsecured wireless networks, ie using default SSID names and no WEP encryption, shows the public’s limited awareness of the security problems in wireless networks,” the report said.

Security vendor Trend Micro commended the university for its research.

“The University of Sharjah should be congratulated for leading this pioneering project to examine the security risk inherent in wireless internet connections. This area is under-explored but as wireless technology becomes almost ubiquitous across the region, it is clear there is a real and present security risk,” said Justin Doo, managing director, Trend Micro Middle East and North Africa.

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